Gold has been used as an esthetic statement and enhancement for millennia. Not only does it resist tarnishing, it seems to emanate sunlight. So for symbolic and esthetic reasons, the thin thin tissue paper like sheets of beaten gold pack a big punch when applied over canvas, wood, and paper. A sizing is used to adhere it to the support, and this is where it gets tricky. A student of mine, of Greek background, once said, when I expressed consternation over remembering where I had left sizing, “you make it your business to know where you put it.” As in the kitchen, I sometimes rush the process and I’m not about to reveal how I apply it in a way that allows some removal if needed, and scratching lines into it with a palette knife. You will lose a lot of the leaf, but what stays is always stunning. I tend to use it to increase the spatial depth of my work, or to bathe figurative elements in holy splendor. Often it creates a second layer composition, like polyphony in music, existing somewhat on its own plane. The difficult part is that the leaf can go bright—or dark (black), depending on the lighting. This activity effects motion and change in the artwork, making it changeably interesting. In my own work, it grew out of creating paintings that changed with lighting in terms of degrees Kelvin between, say 2500 and 6000 (red to blue). When the gold is reflecting, the painted areas “diminish,” and conversely. Twenty three karat Italian leaf is softly exquisite, German is harsher, and you never have to worry about varnishing it. The zinc and copper imitation is good, but will tarnish unless coated. I used to use silver leaf, but aluminum is less expensive and never tarnishes.
Leaf is a challenge to work with, but it helps create a world that has ancient references to Egypt, Greece, Byzantium, and other cultures. It exudes mystery and religiosity through its reflectivity and spatial aspects.